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Multiple lasers enable wide-field adaptive optics

University of Arizona
16 August 2010

A team of University of Arizona astronomers led by Michael Hart has developed an adaptive-optics technique that allows them to correct for atmospheric turbulence over a wide field of view, enabling Earth-based telescopes to obtain images as crisp as those taken with the Hubble Space Telescope, and much more quickly.

From the MMT Observatory on Mount Hopkins south of Tucson, Hart and his group point a bundle of green laser beams into the night sky. Some of the laser light bounces off oxygen and nitrogen molecules high up in the atmosphere, creating five artificial stars spread across the field of view.

"We observe what the turbulence in the atmosphere does to them," explains Hart, a professor of astronomy in UA's Steward Observatory and department of astronomy. "The light that is reflected back tells us what we need to know about the turbulence."

Until now, adaptive optics could only remove atmospheric blurring along a very narrow line of sight. "It's like being able to see sharp through a pin hole, while the rest of your field of view looks like frosted glass," said Hart. "Our technique makes the pin hole much bigger."

The work appeared in the August 5 edition of Nature. Hart's co-authors on the paper are: Mark Milton, Christoph Baranec (now at Caltech Optical Observatories), Keith Powell, Thomas Stalcup (Keck Observatory), Don McCarthy, Craig Kulesa and Eduardo Bendek. Milton, Powell, Bendek, and Baranec are SPIE Members. Baranec also serves on the SPIE Membership Committee.

Full story from the University of Arizona
New vistas in adaptive optics: SPIE video